Mozn Hassan: "We women are seen as victims and not as citizens on equal footing”

Friday 26 April 2013

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Source: Amnesty International

Date: 5 April 2013

Keywords: Human rights defenders, Women, Human rights and women.

In recent years, Amnesty International has been documenting abuses against women in Egypt, stressing the repression against demonstrators and sexual violence. Egyptian authorities have informed about laws and initiatives to protect them, but these laws have never been implemented. The new Constitution, adopted in a referendum held in a hurry, does not protect women and confine them to a housewife role. It does not prohibit their discrimination. In spite of all this, women are confronting those committing abuses against their human rights and raise their voices. Such is the case of Mozn Hassan, Director of the Feminist Study Institute Nazra.

What is the work done by the Feminist Study Institute Nazra?

The Feminist Study Institute Nazra is a group whose objective is to create an Egyptian feminist group, based on believing that feminism and gender are political and social issues affecting freedom and development in all types of societies. The objective of Nazra is to incorporate these values both in the public and private spheres.

Nazra believes that youth, within its diversity, struggle to integrate in its societies issues affecting them, including those related to gender. That is why, Nazra works in general terms to provide all actors striving in favor of causes related with gender all the support they might required, and it is devoted, in concrete terms, to the support of youth groups working in favor of these causes.

Could we say that the burst of the Tahrir Revolution marked the awakening of the Egyptian woman? What has the role it played? What was the meaning it had for them?

The Egyptian revolution was the awakening of the whole population in our country and opened a new public space for us. Regarding women, it helped them to obtain a clear vision of their existence and redefined their public space, increasing their presence and allowing them to create discourses required to continue working in a new Egypt.

People believed in the Arab Spring. Do you feel disappointed?

The Egyptian revolution constitutes a historic moment for our country. Those joining it have the great luck of participating in the change in the course of the history in Egypt. But the revolution is a long process demanding years to attain that for which we are struggling.

Women in Arab countries are taking the streets to claim for their rights. They are courageous women. Do you feel proud of them?

It is a mistake to try to create a stereotype with the participation of Egyptian women. They have been present for years in the public space and the revolution for them was the new way to claim for their rights and new spaces. Women suffer discrimination in all spheres of action. They have the lowest salaries, the cannot access to certain activities, female unemployment is four times higher than the male one and they have less opportunities to access education. Single women under 21 year old need the permit from their parents to obtain a passport and to travel, and married women, the consent from their husbands. There are many examples of inequality situations. Do you think the change is possible? Of course, everything should and need to change. Feminism is built on the idea of being able to change what people see as normal. This demands time and effort from all the social movements.

When drafting the new Constitution a lot of proposals were presented to improve social and cultural problems in the Egyptian society so as to guarantee the rights of women, but there is not a single article in the Constitution making any reference to these rights and only article 10 mentions the important role of women as a mother. What did happen?

The drafting process of the Constitution was part and parcel of the whole philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood when dealing with the hopes of the Egyptian population: ignorance, lack of transparency and the non believe on the equality of women. In the Constitution women were mentioned as divorced women, widow and head of families and in an article criminalizing prostitution. This is an example of how those who drafted the Constitution see morality of women, since they see them as victims and not as citizens on equal footing and having the same rights as men do.

Egyptian women also have to confront another serious problem: sexual harassment. According to Mervat Tallawy, President of the National Council of Women (NCW), women are harassed as an average seven times every 200 meters. Does anyone feel alarm with this alarming figure?

Sexual harassment has been, for some years now, one of the main social and legal problems. People intend to ignore this and only the pressure exerted by some independent groups striving for the rights of women is what has made this issue to gain relevance. Most of the work is focused in sexual harassment on the street and there are gray areas requiring of more work, such as sexual harassment at work and within the family. This issue demands a deep work to eradicate the social, political and legal causes. The fact that systematic sexual harassment is undermined, and all violations done by the military and by the police force against the rights of Egyptian women for some years now, is the reason why people do not take seriously collective sexual aggressions and group violations which took place and are well documents at the Tahrir Square.

Precisely in recent months there have been a large number of violent sexual aggressions against women, including rape, participating in the demonstrations at the Tahrir Square. Given the fact that even the members of the Upper House in the Parliament are those saying that women are the only ones responsible for participating in the rallies and that they should not mix with men in demonstrations, which are the possibilities for the Egyptian government to take proper measures against sexual harassment and gender related violence?

Different social sectors did not take the real responsibility for these terrible events. For a while, ignorance prevailed. All interested parties should take seriously this issue: political parties, the media, the civil society and, above all, officials who for starters should acknowledge these events. The authorities and the President should request forgiveness for the fact that these events against Egyptian women took place during his tenure of government. An investigation should be initiated on this event; the military and the police forces that have violated the physical integrity of women and their rights should be punished; the reform of the security sector or the creation of a new security system should be based in the sensitivity toward gender related issues and on how to face these incidents; and when Egypt shall have an elected Parliament laws should be enacted to protect the presence of women in the public space.

On l9 March 2011, after the World Campaign on Women, 18 women were detained, beaten and suffered electrical shocks. Seventeen of them had to endure virginity test. Finally a court in Cairo forbid the Egyptian Military Junta to perform these practices in women, but no one has been condemn for the ones already made. Is impunity the only thing prevailing?

Virginity tests are one of the most shameful acts ever done by the military against the Egyptian female population and show how militarization deals with women, especially in a patriarchal society, socially conservative such as Egypt. They constituted the first message addressed to women saying that the public space was not theirs and that authorities will use anything the society consider as no socially accepted in Egypt for women. Human rights violations continued in different events during the military regime, such as tortures, sexual harassment and rape attempts against women. Regretfully, the lack of punishment against the members of the military and of the police who committed such crimes against the Egyptian population and against women convey the message that these are actions accepted which are allowed to happen.

According to your criteria, how should and must sexual harassment against women be solved?

It should be taken into consideration that the different sectors – the Egyptian government, the political parties, the human rights movement and the feminist movement, the media and others – bear the responsibility of including it in the agenda and to attempt to attain social, political and legal actions and to punish those committing these crimes.

Do you think the role of organizations such as Amnesty International is important?

International solidarity is a key issue in our work. It should be related to the needs of the collective of local activists and cover the reality of the local citizenship.

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